The world is becoming more and more health conscious. Society, health policy and patients' needs are all changing dramatically. The challenges society is currently facing are related to the increase in the aging population, changes in lifestyle, the need for healthcare cost containment and the need for improvement and monitoring of healthcare quality. The emphasis is put on prevention rather than on treatment. In addition, patients and health consumers are waiting for non‐invasive or minimally‐invasive diagnosis and treatment methods, for home care, short stays in hospital, enhancement of rehabilitation, information and involvement in their own treatment. Progress in science and technology offers, today, miniaturization, speed, intelligence, sophistication and new materials at lower cost. In this new landscape, microtechnologies, information technologies and telecommunications are key factors. Telemedicine has also evolved. Used initially to exchange patients' files, radiographic data and other information between health providers, today telemedicine contributes to new trends in “hospital extension” through all‐day monitoring of vital signs, professional activities, entertainment and home‐based activities.
The new possibilities for home care and ambulatory monitoring are provided at 4 levels:
a) Microsensors. Microtechnologies offer the possibility of small size, but also of intelligent, active devices, working with low energy, wireless and non‐invasive or minimally‐invasive;
b) Wrist devices are particularly user friendly and combine sensors, circuits, supply, display and wireless transmission in a single box, very convenient for common physical activities;
c) Health smart clothes make contact with 90 % of the skin and offer many possibilities for the location of sensors. These sensors have to be thin, flexible and compatible with textiles, or made using textile technologies, such as new fibers with specific (mechanical, electrical and optical) properties;
c) Health smart homes. The aim of this method is to improve the patient's living conditions and to avoid the cost of long hospitalization. “Exosensors” are used for measurement of the activity and behavior of the patient. The field of applications is very large, e.g. continuous monitoring of elderly populations, professional and military activities, athletes performance and condition, and people with disabilities. This new healthcare approach has to take into account lifestyle for improving prevention. For the patient to be more and more involved in his/her own therapy, new responsibilities and ethics have to be defined. A “societal health education” has to be provided to physicians and to patients to get all the benefits of this new context.